Ladies and gentlemen, the pre-season is upon us! It’s been exactly a month since the Season 4 World Finals and — after weeks of nothing but transfer rumours, highlight reels and Azir bugs on Reddit — we finally have something to talk about: NA Expansion.
The NA Expansion What?
The NA Expansion Tournament is Riot’s latest project to open up competition within the LCS. This year, two additional teams from the Challenger scene will qualify for the 2015 Spring Split, bringing the total number to 10. With the Ranked 5s Ladder locking at midnight on November 2nd, we’ve had a few weeks to stare at the bracket and theorize. eSports Heaven put out a good article profiling the top team a few weeks ago — thanks to insider insight from NME manager AngelVigil. But it’s been mostly speculation, until now.
WARNING: The rest of this article contains spoilers from Round 1 of the NA Expansion Tournament. Read at your own risk!
Image Source: eSportspedia
Round 2 Match-Ups:
Complexity Black vs. Final Five — 22/11/14 (1:00pm PST)
Without sugar-coating it, Final Five don’t stand much of a chance against Complexity Black. The match-up between Zenith eSports and F5 was arguably the tightest of Round 1. Both teams showed promise, but not enough. Placing 6th and 7th respectively in the Ranked 5s Ladder, this mid-table series was supposed to go Zenith’s way. Tight coordination from F5 — including a crazy Sion/Rengar hard-engage comp in Game 3 — narrowly gave them the win. They’ll need better to beat their next opponents. In particular, support player Rule18 must stop getting caught out!
Despite some big roster changes, Complexity Black are clear favourites — not only in this round, but in the tournament overall. After a dramatic “parting of ways” during the off-season, Complexity split into two squads. Black look like they’ve gotten the better half of the deal. With veteran XDG jungler Xmithie onboard, coL.Black can still lay claim to both the skill and the experience of a full LCS team. The only spot where F5 has an edge is in the form of top laner Rhux. Otherwise, expect them to lose lane or go even. Even assuming stellar play from Gate and Prototype, F5 will need some serious cheese to make it into Round 3.
Prediction: coL.Black (2-0)
Curse Academy vs. Complexity White — 22/11/14 (3:00pm PST)
Curse Academy shouldn’t underestimate Complexity White going into Round 2. While coL.White’s series against Monstar Kittenz highlighted a few potential weaknesses, it also showcased the team’s strengths. Westrice was a beast on Gnar in Game 1, racking up a 50cs lead on his lane opponent by the mid game. Jungler Kez also put in a trio of solid performances and should be able to keep Saintvicious under control with his superior mechanics.
Elsewhere on the map, coL.White are the ones with cause for concern. Although bot lane duo MarbreyBABY and Lohpally are fitting well into the team, let’s not forget that Curse Academy just dropped Marbrey (aka Impactful) for Cop — a clear upgrade. Similarly, goldenglue’s performances in Round 1 indicate he will struggle against Keane, a future LCS mid laner if I’ve ever seen one. Add these factors to Curse Academy’s near-defeat of CLG in relegations and there is reason to suspect that coL.White is “cursing” their bad luck right now.
Sidenote: If Curse Academy somehow don’t make it out of the Expansion Tourny, look for Keane to join his countryman Piglet on the official Curse roster (replacing Voyboy). You heard it here first!
Prediction: Curse Academy (2-1)
Team Coast vs. Team LoLPro — 23/11/14 (1:00pm PST)
Against almost any other team in the Challenger scene, LoLPro would be favourites. Their victory in the Black Monster Cup finals places them far higher than online seeding would suggest. Yusui is one of the strongest mid laners in the Challenger scene and both Thinkcard and WizFujiin bring offline experience to the table. But, while LoLPro beat Azingy’s Fission Gaming convincingly in the first round, Coast were able to decimate their opponents Call Gaming and — simply put — they looked better doing it.
Coast currently has a full roster of ex-LCS pros. Only coL.Black and Fusion can boast comparable pedigree. Despite a flurry of failed swaps in the off-season, it seems that management has finally struck gold, with the team seeding first in the Ranked 5s ladder. Recent addition Impaler put on a terrifying performance as jungle Rengar against Call Gaming (this pick is now surely ban-worthy), before mid laner Jesiz went 11-0-11 with Ahri in the second game. Both players look determined to prove that they are LCS calibre. Solid performances across the board make it difficult to find a weak spot on this team. Unless they choke, these guys will be in the LCS by the end of tournament.
Prediction: Team Coast (2-1)
NME eSports vs. Fusion Gaming — 23/11/14 (3:00pm PST)
This is the match I’m most excited to see and — you guessed it! — it’s 90% because of MakNooN. That being said, I will be surprised if Fusion make it into the LCS this time. There are a number of reasons why… Foremost is the fact that they’re playing NME, self-described “dark horse” of the tournament. I was impressed by NME’s match against Noble Truth in Round 1 — and not only the much-hyped bot lane combo of otter and Bodydrop. The team performed across the board, with both solo laners showing their mettle and jungler Inori going god-mode in Game 2.
Additionally, despite a high seeding in Ranked 5s, Fusion hasn’t had much time to gel yet. Any team with two foreigners is bound to have some communication issues and Nien just switched back to playing AD Carry. Finally, Gleebglarbu recently backed out of the upcoming games, citing recurring problems with mental health. He’ll be replaced by mid laner Chunky for the series and it’s difficult to know what to expect from him. I’m convinced that we’ll see Fusion in the LCS by the end of the year, but I don’t think it’s their time yet. As for Gleeb — cheer up little buddy! Depression is a bitch, but we believe in you. Keep fighting!
Prediction: NME eSports (2-1)
I’m W.A. Hamiltron, and this has been the Tournament Realm. Check back in a week for my unsolicited opinions on IEM San Jose, the next round of NA Expansion, and more! And thanks for reading!